Dec 3, 2009

Colleges Offer New Majors in Fun and Games

Not so many years ago, majoring in game design at the University of Pennsylvania meant skipping class and staying up all night playing pinball at the "Dirty Drug" on the corner of 34th and Walnut Streets. At some point, Pong and Pac-Man introduced the digital age, and students found new, technology-based ways to waste time.

Flash forward a few years, and games have suddenly joined other mainstream media worthy of academic study. Today it’s all about the industry, as perfectly respectable post-secondary institutions are rushing to cash in by offering majors in video game design and development and building breathtaking facilities to support student interest in the field.

This fall, UC Irvine (UCI) announced the establishment of the Center for Computer Games and Virtual Worlds. Construction is nearing completion on a 4,000 square-foot, 20-room “Cyber-Interaction Observatory” for faculty research that includes plans for floor-to-ceiling projection screens, 3-D stereoscopic displays, and gesture-based interfaces. Expanding on the Game Culture and Technology Lab founded in 2001, UCI will offer a 4-year undergraduate program in “game science” joining radio, TV, and film as legitimate media-based academic majors or concentrations.

But it isn’t just about fun and games. Advocates for video design and development are quick to point out that applications go far beyond game-playing or entertainment. Virtual worlds and simulators are used for everything from stroke rehabilitation to combat exercises. In fact, the entertainment industry frequently leads the way for computer applications in health, communications, and defense.

On the east coast, High Point University recently opened the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication which offers a similar major in Games and Interactive Media supported by an amazing lab also featuring floor-to-ceiling screens and up-to-date video equipment used to provide students with hands-on experience in virtually every video game currently on the market. Students in the program are not only encouraged to play to learn but also to hone skills as story-tellers, critics, artists, and potential entrepreneurs.

So far, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has not created a specific job category for game design and development. But students graduating with related majors are expected to find jobs in the rapidly expanding market for serious games development, especially those with specific expertise in design, animation, programming, audio engineering, or testing. The new majors at UCI and High Point join those already offered at the University of Southern California, UC Santa Cruz, RPI, the Rochester Institute of Technology and several other colleges and universities bringing respect to a field formerly considered a simple waste of time.

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